Shauna Clapham is a Director of Swoffers estate agency who recently celebrated 30 years with the company. Reaching this milestone is a great time to reflect on the past three decades and to look forward to the future.
Having studied foreign languages at college, Shauna Clapham started her working life as a PA in Europe. ‘A friend of a friend’s parents knew a property developer who was moving to Tenerife and wanted somebody who spoke Spanish to go with them. We didn’t stay in Tenerife long and ended up in Portugal, although I didn’t speak Portuguese. And the property developer didn’t do much developing, but it was good fun,’ says Shauna.
After two eye-opening years Shauna came back to Guernsey and was invited to interview for the company now known as Swoffers. Although she was employed as ‘someone pretty to sit in the window and be on the phone – how non-PC is that?’, on her first day Shauna was asked to be an Open Market secretary instead. Despite the original job description and the fact that female employees were not allowed to wear trousers, Shauna found a strong female Director as a role model. ‘When I met her I thought, “That’s what I want to be,” and I knew that from the beginning. She had an energy about her that was inspiring, she didn’t take no for an answer and she was prepared to work so hard.’
Shauna worked her way up the career ladder at Swoffers before becoming responsible for Open Market sales. She still enjoys focusing on this sector. ‘I don’t know that I would have been able to sell houses anywhere else for 30 years but I love meeting new people and every time somebody comes to the island it refocuses me on how fortunate I am, and my family is, to be here. I feel I’m selling the island, the lifestyle and how lucky we are, and I really believe that.’
Trends in interior design have changed many times over the last three decades and Shauna has seen it all. ‘We did have quite a bad phase in the nineties, when everyone got out sponges and rags, myself included. There was some seriously interesting stuff going on then.’ She is charmed by a different sort of décor: ‘I love seeing properties that are completely unspoilt, usually with a fascinating owner who’s been there forever; there’s just something lovely about that.’ You’d think seeing amazing properties might lead to house envy, but Shauna says, ‘There have been a few occasions when I’ve gone home with grand ideas but in our small cottage they would never work! So no house envy, but I think my job’s about people as much as it’s about houses.’
Of course, the housing market has undergone a number of fluctuations too – notably the financial crisis of 2007/2008. ‘The change in the world economy had an immediate effect on the Open Market. Up until then there were bad times but they didn’t last very long, so there was always light at the end of the tunnel. When the Population Management Review was going on you did begin to question what was around the corner, but we’re coming out of that now and people are now more active. We’ve had to accept that the market has corrected, and I do think that’s happened and it’s quite positive.’
Uncertainty in the UK has further stabilised the Open Market. ‘The world’s a much smaller place and that competition from other places is something we’ve had to contend with. But the level of activity has increased and the sort of people we’re seeing want to be close to the UK. They feel they’re still part of something very British, and it’s a bit like the old days.’
Technology has changed the way people look for property and Shauna can see both sides of this. ‘In my early days we would stay open until 5.30pm so that we could get our properties sent out on the day that we got the photos back from Boots. We’d be madly sticking photos on details, which was very laborious. There used to be a pattern: the advert would go in the Sunday Times and on Monday the answerphone would be full of Open Market enquiries or on Wednesday we’d receive a handwritten letter! We’d send them a bulky package in the post and our relationship was by telephone and letter.’ This convenience has come at a cost, however: ‘People had to make themselves known to us so you could form a relationship with somebody very early on, whereas now our buyers are much more remote. If you talk to people you can help them so much better.’
Shauna has appeared on the IFC Power Women Top 200 list three times, and being asked to speak at the Women’s Development Forum caused her to reflect on what she has achieved during her 30 years at Swoffers. ‘It reinforced how much women have to do to keep up, just to stay up there. We’re women, we have the children, we can’t change that, and that does cause changes for women physically, emotionally and mentally – and you have to cope with those if you’re going to continue on your path. I don’t think women should be chosen for roles just because they’re women, surely you want the best person for the job. But I do think that a woman brings something to a Board – it takes a bit of testosterone out of the boardroom.’ Does Shauna consider herself to be a female role model? She is modest in her self-appraisal, pausing before answering: ‘I’d like to think so, yes. But I’m not sure; I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience, and stories, with younger members of our team. I am not good an instant responses – I have to consider what I’m trying to achieve; if somebody writes to me I have to think about what I’m going to write back. I believe people can learn from that though, taking five minutes out and thinking, and then going forward.’
Estate agents have traditionally had a reputation for bending the truth, but Swoffers is regarded as having integrity. Shauna is clear why that’s the case: ‘We are customer focused and we set ourselves standards that we try to adhere to. We’ve been around a long time, and tradition is still somewhere in our DNA. And we’ve got really loyal staff.’
Swoffers is part of the community, undertaking challenges and fundraising for local charities. ‘So we happen to be estate agents, but first and foremost we’re good citizens, and that sounds so naff but it’s true.’ As for the future, there’s a lot of interest in the island, and that is positive news. ‘I’m carrying around two big bags of optimism because Guernsey is great and we can pull it apart but the truth is we have a fantastic quality of life. We’ve got the UK going through all sorts of changes at the moment and I think for that reason people are coming to look at Guernsey, just to see what this little gem in the middle of the ocean is all about.’